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SAFER: Generations of district residents helping each other

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Call SAFER's food pantry at (518) 260-4779 or the 24-hour emergency assistance number at (518) 744-3392 for more information or assistance.

september 2, 2012

Mike McLoughlin, president of the Schuylerville Area Food and Emergency Relief (SAFER) board of directors, recounts an anecdote he heard years agoa story that illustrates the tradition of caring that permeates the Schuylerville community. The story takes place a few generations ago when a woman lost her husband just as she was about to give birth to her fifth child. Needless to say, it was a struggle for the mother to keep her children fed, though she never asked for help.

A neighbor recognized the need…and the pride of one who wants to provide for her family. He quietly took action, regularly dropping off groceries on the family’s porch. He didn’t ask for kudos, didn’t ask for recognition..and it’s likely the family members never knew who their benefactor was.

Tradition of caring continues
Years later, this tradition of caring continues in the Schuylerville community. McLoughlin makes a short and stealthy journey to an elderly couple in the area to deliver items from SAFER’s food pantry.

“We heard about this couple in their 80s who had extensive medical bills, but, like many residents, they would never dream of asking for help,” McLoughlin said. “However, they’re extremely appreciative whenever I drop off a box of food.”

McLoughlin points out that this “through the grapevine” approach is an important element in SAFER’s continuing quest to help Schuylerville residents, especially as the organization is seeing an unprecedented increase in need. “We want to know about people who might not directly ask for help. Everyone has to be our ears and eyes,” he said.

SAFER’s services

Top photo: Schuylerville students deliver canned goods to the SAFER food pantry. Bottom photo: Students sort and box non-perishable items before delivering SAFER's largest-ever donation of food.

SAFER is probably best known for its food pantry, which is located in a small building behind the Town of Saratoga offices on Spring Street; the town donated the space. (For long-time residents, think bus garage behind the “Corner School.”) The food pantry is starting its third year in this location. “Before that, the pantry was operated for 30 years by area churches,” McLoughlin said.

Like all food pantries in the state, SAFER serves residents within school district boundaries, meaning many Schuylerville students can benefit from the generosity of their neighbors. Residents can visit the SAFER pantry 12 times per year, taking three days’ worth of food for each person in the household. The pantry is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

SAFER also provides emergency financial assistance in a case-by-case basis for such expenses as electricity, heat or phone services. “We pay the vendor directly on behalf of the resident,” McLoughlin explained.

The phone number at the pantry is (518) 260-4779; SAFER’s 24-hour emergency assistance number is (518) 744-3392.

Increasing need in the community

SAFER is experiencing a large increase in need for food and financial assistance. “In July alone, we saw a 40 percent increase,” McLoughlin said. He attributes the upsurge to the poor economy and the fact that many people have been forced to take part-time or lower-paying jobs.

It’s expected that the needs will increase even more, prompting SAFER to continue its fundraising and food collection efforts. “We’re really grateful for all the groups that help with food drives and financial support,” McLoughlin said, citing, in particular, the efforts of Schuylerville Central School District students and staff who have been extremely supportive.

Food items can be dropped off at the pantry; a sign on Route 29 often lists suggested items. SAFER even has a small amount of space for fresh foods, so if your home garden is overproducing, call the pantry to inquire if there’s a need for fresh vegetables and fruits.

Monetary donations have a multiplier effect
If area residents are in the position to write a check, however, monetary donations go a little further. “For every $10 that’s donated, we can buy $100 to $120 worth of food,” McLoughlin said. “We can do bulk buying through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which is the largest food bank in the country. This makes our donated dollars go much further.”

McLoughlin give one concrete example: SAFER can buy peanut butter for just a handling fee of around 24 cents per jar. Compare that to the grocery store cost, which is between $2.50 and $3.

SAFER is also seeking volunteers to help out at the pantry. “We have 20 hours per week to cover, so if you’re available for a four-hour shift, or even for an hour or two, it would be extremely helpful,” McLoughlin said.

Full circle
In the meantime, Schuylerville students are planning more SAFER fundraising and “food-raising” activities for the 2012-2013 school year. The SAFER board members and the volunteers will carry on the traditions of caring in the Schuylerville community. And McLoughlin will carry on a family tradition.

“My grandfather was that gentleman who secretly helped the mother with five children,” McLoughlin revealed. “I do this in honor of him.”